February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
Sally Bergesen, CEO, Oiselle
Combining her love of running, 10 years of marketing experience and desire to workout in “no-poof” shorts, CEO Sally Bergesen is redefining what it means to be a women’s fitness brand. Her Seattle-based apparel company prides itself on challenging industry norms and creating fresh clothing for the oiselle in all of us. “Oiselle is French for bird,” Bergesen explains. “Running is when you can fly and be free and weightless.”
A University of Oregon grad, Bergesen has always run out of pure love for the sport. “Running was always 100 percent personal. It kept my energy really fresh.” And in 2007, that passion fueled her idea to develop a brand that spoke to athletes like herself.
“What makes us unique is that we embrace the notion of competition and performing at the highest level. That is rare in a women’s company,” says Bergesen. A part of this effort includes rallying around the sport of professional running. Despite the brand’s small size, Oiselle has made a big splash in track and field, with fun events (including a fashion show DJ’ed by MC Hammer at the 2012 Olympic Trials) and more serious ones (speaking out against sponsorship restrictions levied on professional athletes).
Bergesen’s boldest statement came in January of 2013 when Oiselle announced that it would be sponsoring former Nike athlete Lauren Fleshman, bucking the traditional brand-athlete relationship in three ways: Fleshman’s relationship was not exclusive, the deal made the her a stakeholder in the company and Oiselle signed knowing that the runner was pregnant at the time and would not be able to compete professionally for at least a year—all moves previously unheard of in a sponsorship agreement.
But Bergesen mixes her serious brand objectives with an unapologetically silly side. One of Oiselle’s signature items, Rundies, are a riff on day-of-the-week underwear, with workouts—tempo, track, long run, fartlek—on the rear. The brand also keeps it quirky when interacting with fans on social media.
“This woman [on Twitter] was talking about her ‘thutt,’ where your thighs meet your butt,” says Bergesen. “Women can be funny and real, and it’s not a big deal. I love that.”
“My goal is to keep training and enjoying the sport while shifting my focus to the athletes whom Oiselle sponsors—to give them as much as I can, hopefully everything they need, to reach the highest level.”
“We encourage people to connect with us on social media and join the running conversation,” says Bergesen. Earn your super-fan status by following @oiselle on Twitter, learn more about your fave pro runners at womensrunning.com and watch streaming track meets on Flotrack.com.